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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

How the Zero Stone in Pune got its freedom from neglect

Abhijit Kondhalkar, architect and urban designer tells us how the neglected condition of the Zero Mile Stone lead him and his team to beautify the space

pune Updated: Sep 22, 2019 16:32 IST
Abhijit Kondhalkar
Abhijit Kondhalkar
Hindustan Times, Pune
Abhijit Kondhalkar, architect and urban designer (third from left) with his team that was responsible for the fabulous beautification and restoration of the Pune’s Zero Mile Stone.
Abhijit Kondhalkar, architect and urban designer (third from left) with his team that was responsible for the fabulous beautification and restoration of the Pune’s Zero Mile Stone.(HT/PHOTO)
         

Taking cognisance of the neglected condition of the Zero Mile Stone, highlighted by Hindustan Times, a corporator Arvind Shinde decided to beautify the space. I first visited the Zero Mile Stone with Shinde who had made budgetary allocations for the beautification project and had approached me to design the space.

When I first saw the stone, it had a tea cup placed on it. The basalt stone was standing tall amid the chaotic surrounding at the footpath. The weathered stone looked like an old man sitting under a banyan tree wanting to tell a story. It reminded me of the ancient biblical proverb, “Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set”. Though the space was crowded by vendors, it had an inherent calmness.

Vaishali Latkar, architect and conservationist, told us that the stone must have been established when the general post office (GPO) was constructed in 1872. While investigating further, we found the connection between Zero Stone and the great trigonometric survey of India which took place between 1800-1872. A book on the trigonometric survey of India written by John Keay ‘The Great Arc’ gave us a breakthrough. We found a fascinating story about the geographical mapping of India. There started the real challenge.

How do we tell the story of the trigonometric survey through space making? Traditionally, the knowledge of history has been confined to history books or within the four walls of the museum. So how do we open the doors of history and display it in the public domain?

Arvind Shinde (centre) and Saurabh Rao (far right) during the inauguration of Zero Stone on September 6.
Arvind Shinde (centre) and Saurabh Rao (far right) during the inauguration of Zero Stone on September 6. ( HT/ FILE PHOTO )

Initially, to make the stone visible from the street, we had to make some tough decisions. There were four street vendors running their daily business at the spot where the stone was located. We had to ask them to shift. We, then, took the decision to widen the footpath based on the Pune Urban Design Street Guideline Policy. It gave us four metres in width and a 100-metre stretch of footpath space available for design. To tell the story of the great trigonometric survey, we thought of installing interactive sculptures on the footpath. Our design team consisted of three members, including Sneha Laygude, Akshay Surve and I. We sat together and finalised the form of sculptures and display. However, getting the designed approved by the municipal authorities was a tough task. We had to make multiple presentations to convince them. What you see today on site is a result of two years of relentless follow-up. Our efforts are minuscule in front of the men who sacrificed their lives for the great trigonometric survey of India.

I still remember the moment. It was August 14, 2019. The print of the map of the great trigonometric survey of India on marble plaque arrived on site at 6pm. The labours were tired after the day’s work but Balkrishna Jagdale, the contractor and I, instructed them not to go home. We started the painstaking process of installing the map. The installation required a great level of construction detailing. It took almost five hours to finish the base work. The mason started applying cement and adhesive on the back of the marble plaque. The plaque needed careful installation. Four people stood on the drums to install the 5ft high and 4ft wide plaque. It took two unsuccessful attempts in order to get the plaque fitted right. We completed the installation at exactly 11.55 pm. We cleaned the map at the stroke of midnight and celebrated Independence Day on site. It was a mere coincidence and we were happy. It felt like all those sleepless nights on site finally paid off. We are glad to have executed exactly what we envisioned.

(As told to Abhay Khairnar)

First Published: Sep 22, 2019 16:29 IST

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